Archive for March, 2006

Charter frustration

Charter High-Speed is advertised as “Superfast downloads and an High-Speed Internet connection that’s always on!” “Always on” is a lie. Having my cable modem connection go down for hours has become a cyclic problem happening every month or two lately. It was down since from the middle of the day yesterday until this morning. It probably is the third of fourth time. Getting help is a frustrating exercise. After several calls to the telephone support center, I got a real person who set up a service call for sometime during the day next Thursday, a whole week away. The service is working again, but I will not cancel until it stays up for a while.

Other means of contact are worse. Chat with Product Support is worthless. The people are friendly enough, but they lack the ability to do anything. They just give instructions to turn hardware off and on. They cannot schedule calls or run serious diagnostics. They are, however, more accessible than telephone support. Contact Us is not much better. The automated reply came quickly, but “A Charter technician will be contacting you shortly” turns out to mean at least 34 hours, if ever.

I do not understand why I even need to tell them about the problem. The company should have hardware capable of monitoring the signal to noise ratios for cable modems. When a cable modem connection starts going off and on, it should be obvious. I understand that problems will happen. It is possible, though, to pinpoint outage locations and to post the information for customers. Charter does none of these things.

One interesting fact did come from talking to telephone support. The representative told me how to log in to the web system of my cable modem and view its status pages. I can see current transmission power and other diagnostic information. I ended up reading a little more about DOCSIS, the standards underlying many cable modem services. I would rather have had it not break, though.

Update March 31: 45 hours after the automated reply, I received a real reply. It instructed me to call the support line.

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Michael M. on March 30th 2006 in General


Local and national celebrity Phyllis Schlafly was profiled in “A Feminine Mystique All Her Own” in The New York Times. I found out about it via this post on The Commonspace blog. She has been an opponent of the feminist movement for many years while being a lawyer and a prominent figure herself. She is an enigma for sure.

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Michael M. on March 30th 2006 in General

Robot vehicles

I finished watching The Great Robot Race on Nova earlier tonight. It documents the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, a race of autonomous vehicles across the desert. This post on /. clued me in. This one on hack a day has additional information about watching it. It represents a big advance and a fast one. None of the robots made it past 7 miles last year, and five robots finished this year. The Gray team, with their Kat-5 robot, succeeded despite Katrina‘s devastation of New Orleans.

The race came up in a talk I attended last week. Charlie Anderson claimed that Bayesian inference was one of the biggest advances in the past year. Rather than having straight digital logic rules for driving, several of the robots used a probabilistic framework. I have not found more detailed information about the algorithms in the popular information I have read.

It is all very exciting. It is a race. It is about robots. It involves machine sensation and learning. It holds potential for saving human lives. Watch it online, borrow it from me or check hack a day.

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Michael M. on March 30th 2006 in General

Culture bomb

Sociologist Orlando Patterson touched the hot button with “A Poverty of the Mind” in The New York Times. He presumably was spurred by the same report about the persistent gap that caught my attention. Patterson argues that the reasons are largely cultural. I do not see how citing culture provides a satisfying answer. It comes too close to being tautological.

I liked this paragraph about migration, a topic of previous interest.

My favorite is Jim Crow, that deeply entrenched set of cultural and institutional practices built up over four centuries of racist domination and exclusion of blacks by whites in the South. Nothing could have been more cultural than that. And yet America was able to dismantle the entire system within a single generation, so much so that today blacks are now making a historic migratory shift back to the South, which they find more congenial than the North. (At the same time, economic inequality, which the policy analysts love to discuss, has hardened in the South, like the rest of America.)

The solution Patterson proposes is too vague. He thinks we need to study and understand the cultural forces with a multidisciplinary approach. I do not know what he means. It makes me wonder whether this step helps us close in on the real goal, increasing cultural drives toward accomplishment, if this problem is largely cultural. Still, he has taken a direct approach on a difficult question with knowledge and consideration. I appreciate his efforts, and I hope he is a leader toward improvement.

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Michael M. on March 28th 2006 in General

Grey Gardens

I checked out the movie Grey Gardens from the library after reading somewhere that a new musical is based on it. This fan site is dedicated to the movie. The Wikipedia entry has more information. The 1975 documentary profiles the two Edith Beales, mother and daughter, who live in seclusion in their decaying mansion, Grey Gardens, in the Hamptons on Long Island.

This story in The New Yorker tells the story of Jerry Torre, one of the Beales’ few friends who gardened for neighbors when the movie was filmed. He reconnected with others in the story by chance.

I do not get this phenomenon. For unclear reasons, I watched the movie the whole way through. I cannot report that I enjoyed it. Some parts that showed disagreements between them were unpleasant. The two are eccentric and opinionated. It was difficult not to pay attention to them once I started watching. I wish I had not started. Grey Gardens has a cult following, but I am not a true believer.

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Michael M. on March 28th 2006 in General, Movies

Big MythTV coverage

MythTV, the free and open digital video recording software, received coverage in The Washington Post. Over a year ago, The New York Times mentioned MythTV in this article. Unlike the older article, this new one covers the software. It does not pursue the alarmist copyright angle. I have mentioned the software frequently. Although I have encountered difficulties, it has made for a good computer hobbyist project. It has changed the way I watch television. My viewing is less and better. My thanks go out to the many people who have contributed to it.


Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General

Church burnings

Like many people, I was saddened and stunned by the Alabama church burnings. After dissatisfaction with the national coverage, I started looking around “Officers’ hunches bolstered fire probe” from The Birmingham News has good coverage. Ricky Lecroy, a conservation officer, speculated correctly that the criminals were drunk young poachers from Birmingham.

The rumors of Satanism fascinate me. I find them hard to believe. In 1988, a wild frenzy about Satanism gripped my town. On some particular day, the Satanists were going to invade the schools and take certain children. Satanists reinforcements had been sent it from North Carolina. A list at the high school had the names of the prime targets. The day came, and the day went.

5-1-88 – “Rumor of satanic cult ritual spooks McComb , children kept home”,
by John Maines, Jackson (MI) Clarion-Ledger, neutral to positive 2 pp.

This list includes the story cited above from the Clarion-Ledger. At the time, I was mostly incredulous, but a little scared. Maybe it could be true. Then nothing happened. My parents made me go to school.

Satanists or not, the motivation question remains. Why did they burn those churches? Its being a joke or a prank makes no sense. I like jokes, but I never have wanted to burn down one church and certainly not nine of them.

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Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General


I watched The Meth Epidemic on Frontline. The program can be watched online. Missouri has a bad reputation with meth. I noticed the billboards along I-55 reading “What’s cooking in your neighborhood?” when traveling between here and home. The problem started in the west, and it is moving east. Prosecuting users and people along the supply chain has not proven very effective with other drugs, and the same appears true with meth. The case for the ability to intervene on the supply side of this problem is convincing. Unlike marijuana, cocaine or heroin, the manufacture of methamphetamine relies on sophisticated industrial chemistry. I feel much less annoyed about restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine.

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Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General, Movies

Cheap bus

I just learned about from this post by Rob Thurman. A ticket to Chicago costs a dollar. Wow! I never have spent much time in Chicago. The car trip is long, and flying is increasingly a hassle. The Chicago Tribune has this article about the service. It will run from Union Station here. I emailed the company to ask whether electrical power outlets are available. I could enjoy letting someone else do the driving while watching a few movies on my computer, all for a dollar.

Update March 27: I received a reply to my inquiry. No power outlets are available on the buses.

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Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General

Sullivan’s Hollow

Sullivan’s Hollow is a place of Mississippi legend. Mize is its capital. South Mississippians know it as mean. I read Sullivan’s Hollow, a short history, earlier this year. When I worked for the power company one summer, I spent a little time there. The lineman I rode with told me stories of outsiders hitched to plows and houses burned down. Those events, however many of them actually happened, are long in the past, but I still felt like people were staring at me the whole time I was there. One man came out of his house to check us out and make sure that we were not stealing his watermelons.

Uncle Earl recorded the fiddle tune “Sullivan’s Hollow” on their recent album She Waits for Night. I found it in the library catalog while searching for Sullivan’s Hollow. I believe the tune comes from Freeny’s Barn Dance Band, an old Mississippi string band. I have some of it figured out, and I continue working on it. Among all the strange titles in old fiddle tunes, it is fun to know the song and the place.

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Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Open D

At the recent Folk School Showcase, I bought Tom Hall‘s CD Right Down There on Lee Street. A few mp3s from the album are available there. His excellent version of Mississippi John Hurt‘s “Payday” is not among them. It has received some play on KDHX.

I have been learning the song. I found out that it is played out of open D tuning. I never have done much experimentation with alternate tunings, but my mind is changing. This page provided a good introduction. Open D is terrific. The tone and harmonies are markedly different from standard tuning, and fingerpicking sounds great. Etta Baker uses the tuning, too. I hope to learn some of her songs. It has taken me too long to try it, but I hope to make up for my misdeed.

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Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

The Land Where the Blues Began

I read a book. Alan Lomax‘s The Land Where the Blues Began tracks the history of blues through the fields and little towns of the South. I have been into the music since receiving The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson as a gift while a teenager. Reading the book while taking Tom Hall‘s class at the Folk School was a treat.

Lomax is a large figure in the world of folk music. With his father, he grew up recording the music of dispossed people and turned it into his career. He came up in this post, among others, for the controversy around whether he gave proper credit to his collaborators. The Land Where the Blues Began does mention them although I do not know how well it reflects their work.

The book primarily is a collection of stories told by both Lomax and the musicians themselves. The number of big names and smaller ones is impressive. It leads to a problem, though. The book is too long and repetitive. Lomax tends to make the same points about the musicians’ histories and cultural backgrounds over and over. It could have been edited into a more concise work. I would recommend it only for people who have a prior interest, but for them, it is worth every page. While I know the land, mules, plows and prison gangs are foreign to me. Reading The Land Where the Blues Began was a look into places to which I am connected and a music I treasure, but a time that has passed.

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Michael M. on March 26th 2006 in General, Music

Diabetes report

Controversial Therapy for Diabetes Is Verified” in The New York Times brings promising news from animal studies of type 1 diabetes by Denise Faustman. The paper also profiled her in 2004. She is an alumna of my program. She spoke at a retreat a few years ago. Science published three articles agreeing with her findings of curing diabetes in mice, one from Emil Unanue‘s laboratory here.

I am excited by the promise and by the connections to WashU. Any enthusiasm should be tempered, however, with an appreciation of how preliminary these results are. The experimental success rate is not very high, and the experiments were conducted with mice. Findings in mice often do not translate well into human treatments. Still, it seems that these successes are big ones. I am no immunologist, but I have the impression that this work is a big leap in a field that has met with a great deal of frustration and failure. This work advances knowledge of a terrible disease even if it does not lead directly to a cure.

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Michael M. on March 25th 2006 in General

MythTV upgrade

I upgraded digital video recording software MythTV to version 0.19 over the weekend. It looks good, but not very different. It seems to run more smoothly. The compilation and installation worked perfectly. Installing MythWeb, the web frontend for managing MythTV, was more difficult. It took me a while to figure out that enabling Apache modules on SUSE requires changes to /etc/sysconfig/apache2 and that the <Directory> setting in the Apache configuration file needs a fully specified path, not just the path relative to the webserver root. MythTV requires too much effort to be more than a project for tinkerers and enthusiasts, but it is an excellent one.

Getting the various plugins to compile was more difficult. I had to manually edit the Makefile for MythBrowser to add -L/opt/kde3/lib64 to the LIBS line. For MythGallery, I had to add -L/usr/X11R6/lib64 to the LIBS line in the Makefile. I had to do the same for MythMusic. For MythMusic, I had to copy mp4ff_int_types.h to /usr/local/include as directed here. To get transcoding in MythDVD, I had to update many packages. All the modules apparently work now.

I have to admit that I might bail on MythTV for EyeTV and the new Mac mini. Today I read on the Cult of Mac that the new Core Duo mini can play and record HDTV. Support for multiple tuners is still preliminary, though. I wish the MythTV backend ran on OS X.

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Michael M. on March 22nd 2006 in General

Social networking changes

I enjoyed this essay about Friendster and Myspace found via Waxy Links. Friendster has tanked. I visit if less than I did. More “last login: More than 3 weeks” appear than anything else among my friends. Myspace is vibrant. I avoided joining it for a long time because it is so chaotic and often ugly. Many profiles look awful, and many crash my browser. I have come to like it anyway. I have reconnected with several old friends through it. I do not know how to evaluate the reasons the essay posits for the changes in the popularity of the sites, but the changes definitely are there.

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Michael M. on March 22nd 2006 in General


In the Jungle, the Unjust Jungle, a Small Victory” in The New York Times tells the interesting story of the song variously called “Mbube,” “Wimoweh” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” I love the song, and I knew it had African roots. The article includes some great clips. The basic story is that South African Solomon Linda, the original composer and performer, received very little compensation, and his heirs are seeking more. I turned to the Wikipedia and found the article The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I have mixed feelings about royalties in this case. Most songs should pass into the public domain in far less time that this one has existed. The wrongs suffered by Linda, however, justify recompense.

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Michael M. on March 22nd 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

WordPress 2.0.2 upgrade

Trying to stay on top of security, I upgraded WordPress to 2.0.2. It seems to be a very minor upgrade. Please let me know if you notice any irregularities.

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Michael M. on March 22nd 2006 in General

Racism overload

The Council of Conservative Citizens blog garnered a link from Blog Saint Louis in this post. Judging from the group’s name, I expected calls for small government and little support for social programs. I was surprised to find the blog tag Black Crime. Then I saw this post at Barlow Farms about a PCA congregation Sons and Guns event. Participants shot at likenesses of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Pope, among others.

This post at the Arch City Chronicle links to “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn” in The New York Times. Racism is alive, and people are suffering.

Update March 22: This post at StL DiatribeR directed me to this story in the Post-Dispatch about a radio announcer fired from station KTRS for using a racial slur, seemingly accidentally.

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Michael M. on March 20th 2006 in General


I went to Cahokia with friends from work last weekend. Its designation as UNESCO World Heritage site is fitting. That place is amazing. This second visit was different from my first. We spent more time in the interpretive center than I did the first time, and we watched the movie. The most striking subtext to the information is how little we know. The city was gone before the Spanish arrived in the New Word, and the inhabitants left no writing. The name for the place and the people is based on who lived there when Europeans arrived. We do not know how the people called themselves and their city. All the ideas about the city and tribal structure were pieced together from archaeological finds. It is fun to imagine who actually built the mounds and what they thought of their work.

We walked around several of the smaller mounds before heading over to Monks Mound. Rising one hundred feet above the plain, it is impressive, and so is the view from the top. I prefer the ridgetop mound design to the others. I do not know why. The flattop mounds just are not as visually appealing. The enormity of Monks Mound, however, makes it amazing regardless.

I have enjoyed seeing several mound sites over the years. Monks Mound dwarfs Emerald Mound, which I finally visited a few months ago. My grandmother took me to Moundville when I was a boy. I have a replica of the Rattlesnake Disk found there. Now I live in Mound City, a popular nickname for St. Louis. It is hard to tell how it got the nickname today with both the mounds and the stories behind them apparently gone. I still enjoy the mysteries.

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Michael M. on March 17th 2006 in General

Vision in sound

I enjoyed Pictures at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra last weekend. I found this review in the Post-Dispatch. In contrast, I found Oliver Knussen‘s Violin Concerto a good listen. A few packages had violinist Leila Josefowicz maintaining complex countermelodies on the high and low strings. She took some strange stances to play it, though. I liked the pieces before and after it although the intervening week has faded my memory. Pictures at an Exhibition was a big and delightful finish.

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Michael M. on March 17th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.